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English transcript of Episode 1: Happy birthday, Romania!
You’re listening to the Wo/anderers podcast, episode 1.
Guido comes from the land of passion, tango and lots of delicious wine and mate. He was born and raised in Argentina, but also lived for half of his life in Italy. That is also the place where he had his first contact with Romania, through the large Romanian diaspora. The 27-year-old is preparing to rock the motorsports engineering world. He is passionate about science, history, systems, and wants to know every little detail about how the universe works. At the same time, he is a humanist at heart. And also a human. 🙂 In our conversation, we dive deep into what Argentinians and Romanians have in common, we discuss the darker side of Romanian history together with its rippling societal effects. And we wish Romania a special happy birthday for its 101st anniversary. Hope you enjoy the talk!
Guido: Hallo, salut…
[finger snapping sounds on a beat]
Daniela: Mister Saxobeat…ta-na-na…ta-na-na…
Guido: How did we get from O-zone to Alexandra Stan?
Daniela: Ah, because we are contemplating the roots of Romanianess, since it’s the 1st of December. Happy Romania day!
Guido: Pretty cool. What are we going to do this year for Romania’s day?
Daniela: We’re obviously launching the podcast. I think that this is a pretty important…a pretty important event on its own. But I don’t know. We definitely have some Moldavian friptură planned, which is basically a kind of roast. With a lot of garlic, obviously and with mămăligă, which is polenta. But it’s mămăligă. [laughter]
You know, I actually don’t like that. I feel it’s very weird that you’re explaining a concept through another concept, and they’re both foreign. But I don’t think…I understand that polenta might be a bit more popular than mămăligă, but is it really?
Guido: Well, the thing is polenta is the word that has been adopted internationally in English, how would you call it? Polenta.
Daniela: Corn Stew. No. [laughter] Corn porridge.
Daniela: Corn… a mixture of corn and salt.
Guido: Corn flour with water and sold. Yes.
Guido: Yum indeed. That sounds great.
Daniela: That’s exactly how restaurants are supposed to portray mămăligă.
Guido: No, but that’s…
Daniela: Please restaurants, if you do decide to use this very creative way of saying mămăligă, give us some credit, please.
Guido: Yes, I mean, I’m going to ask you for the copyright.
Daniela: For the trademark, cool.
Guido: But, no, that’s the thing. Mămăligă is actually the Romanian word for it.
Daniela: That’s true.
Guido: And polenta, well, polenta is polenta in English, Spanish, Italian…
Daniela: Mămăligă can also have that independence, thank you very much. Checkmate! [laughter]
Guido: How does it have that independence though?
Daniela: It can have.
Guido: Does it have it?
Daniela: Not yet. [laughter] It’s late bloomer.
Guido: Nah, but I mean, of course, the polenta, or the mămăligă, if you want to call it like that, is clearly very popular in Romania because, of course, it’s, one could say, a simple food. And especially with the very, very cold winters, you need to do with what you have. So that brings in the polenta, which is cornflower basically. It is very simple to produce, and you can actually stock it, which is very important.
Daniela: That is true. It’s interesting, though, we started speaking about food so much at the beginning of the podcast.
Guido: Well, food is actually very big component of the identity of a people and of their culture because that gives away whether they actually have a culture as well, sometimes.
Daniela: Also very true. If we’re talking about food, you do know that we still have a box of ROM chocolates on top of all computer, which is actually a prize that you won last year on the 1st of December, when we joined random Romanian community in the Netherlands. They were organizing a kind of special cultural evening, and at one point, of course, they decided to organize a quiz. And luckily, you got a little bit of help from some locals.
Guido: Yeah, I cheated a little bit, I mean in that sense ’cause I had the help of the best people.
Daniela: Of the best locals… [laughter]
Guido: Of course, the best locals. And yeah, that got us home with the ROM chocolate, with the eugenia…thing. There were some other chocolates that I don’t remember the name now.
Daniela: I think they were the very typical Christmas chocolates that we usually…we used to hang on Christmas trees and now we just like to eat them for the memory.
Guido: And there was one little bar as well, that was very…I don’t remember the name.
Daniela: Aaaaa! [laughter]
Guido: Yes, I don’t remember what it tastes like, though. I have a memory of it, but…interesting stuff.
Daniela: A bit cheesy.
Guido: Yeah, yeah, definitely. And, of course. We had 2 1/2 litre bottle of Ciucaș.
Guido: Refreshing…man, that was an experience! I did consume. I made last three days. The good thing is that since it’s a plastic bottle, you actually have a cap and you can close it. And then it keeps the gas.
Daniela: Interestingly, enough, I’m not sure if Romanian consumers of Ciucaș would care if it stays fresh for 3 days because I think it would be gone by…yeah, just in a couple of hours.
Guido: Yes, I know, but I feel like I am not that trained yet to, like, chug this 2 1/2 liter of beer from a plastic bottle.
Daniela: You need a bit of training still.
Guido: Yes, definitely. But I have to say that both the ROM Toff and the eugenia have a special pride, the weirdest taste kind of thing, you know. Like, the eugenia, I’m like, well this tastes weird, it tastes a bit chemical. [laughter] It makes you wonder if it’s actually safe to eat.
Daniela: It is the sweet of our childhood. So it’s actually something that I used to get…like my mom used to package it every time I went to school. So you had a little sandwich. You might have had some fruit, a piece of fruit, but then you always had the eugenia, which is also my mom’s first name.
Guido: Of course.
Daniela: Is she also chemical? No. [laughter] This is for another podcast.
Guido: I don’t know, she’s kinda cool. But hey, we can always find that out. but the ROM Toff. The ROM Toff actually, yeah, it looks like chocolate.
It acts like chocolate, except that when you bite it is like…hmmm…it is suspicious. But I mean, I did eat some of them. It seems like a…
Daniela: Are they legit?
Guido: They are legit, I would say. I mean, of course, you can see the whole Romanian pride in the packaging, like holy shit…the whole packaging is Romanian flag and it’s Romanian flags everywhere. It feels a bit like when you go to a new country, that if you ever forget where you are, you will find Romanian flags everywhere. Because that is a fact.
Daniela: It does tell a little bit about the culture.
Guido: Definitely. And, I mean, I do see some similarities between that particular behavior and how people are also in Argentina, ’cause, you will find flags hanging from their balconies, from the windows, from anything, in their cars.
Daniela: Well, you have a special day dedicated to the flag, to the bandera.
Guido: Yes. Of course, we have the day for the flag. We also have the Independence Day, we have…way too many national holidays to remember.
Daniela: So, what is your first contact with Romanian culture? How did you get to know so much, ’cause you also studied about Romanian culture, about Romanian history and that…that actually happened last year on the 1st of December, mostly, I think, but before that…
Guido: The history, yes. But the cultural manifestations, so to say, I experienced a bit before that because, well, when we got together, you did kind of indoctrinate me with the Romanian culture. You just, like, dropped this pile of content related to Romanian culture in the form of videos, texts, articles explaining to me all about the traditions and everything. And it clearly is very, very important aspect for the people. You can see that, well, you being Romanian, I can see that you are very attached to your culture and to your national identity. I respect that. I understand why you want to share it ’cause there’s plenty of value in it. But well, my first contact with Romania, one could say was when I was in Italy. Of course, there’s a big part of the diaspora that lives in Italy and when I was in school, I did have contact with Romanians, whether it was like classmates or friends of friends. And, on the other hand, you also have the media that were talking about the Romanians that would go to Italy for criminal purposes or with a mafia. And, of course, that doesn’t really help you make a good opinion about the people or about the country. It makes you feel like…man, these people, they’re all a bunch of criminals. They’re coming here just to, like, stab you and stuff. And if you go to that land, they’re just, like, going to rob your wallet when you turn your back.
Daniela: Sounds like a medieval jungle, I would say.
Guido: Something like that, but it’s very far from reality…it’s very far from reality. Because in the end, Romanians are just people and just because there are a few bad people, it doesn’t mean that all of them are bad.
That is something that I got to experience more and more, especially after I left Italy. I ended up surrounded by a community of internationals, among which also some Romanians and that really makes you realize yeah, they’re just people. They are just people like us and most of them are just, like, trying to get somewhere in life. Just like the rest of us. So in the end, they are just human beings.
Daniela: How did you feel about the difference between what was said in the media back in Italy and what you experience? Was there a difference initially, did you notice it or did the community of Romanians that you met in Italy or parts of it, let’s put it like that, because obviously a community can be formed with many, many people – did they enforce certain ideas or stereotypes that you got from the media?
Guido: OK, so, to begin with, what the media said was very different to what I experienced. So, for example, the people I met, they were kinder than the average Italian. That’s actually quite interesting because what the media really depicts is a very negative image of Romanians. On the contrary, they were always ready to help you. Even though they would stick together with other Romanians, as if they wanted to retain their culture, they would not exclude you. I also find it quite amazing that even though their Italian was not perfect, they would still be able to make their intentions clear. So in the end, nothing of what you saw in the media was actually visible or enforced. They were really nice people.
Daniela: Then you got to visit Romania in 2018 right? For the first time. And you went through the country, you visited quite some places, you interacted with different groups of people, from the East to the West. I think you just missed the south, but that can be solved next year for sure.
Guido: Well, we can consider Bucharest as part of the south, right?
Daniela: I was talking more about places like Craiova or the Dobrogea region, but can be fixed next year. But you did go and visit, you had more of a real contact with actual culture within the country. So did that influence you on having a better opinion about Romanians or?
Guido: That is a difficult question because for some things, it did make me form a better opinion over Romanians. But for some others, it actually influenced my opinion in a negative way. First of all, through work, I got in contact with even more Romanians. And there, I fully realized that they are just normal people, they are just outside of their country, trying to find their way in life and they clearly missed their home. They have a very specific attachment to their home country. But when you visit the country, people are slightly different. But really, when you get at the border control, the authorities have this arrogant attitude, as if they were looking at the last shit on the planet.
Daniela: That’s when the fun starts.
Guido: Something like that. They pretend to be important because they have this uniform. They feel powerful, they feel God-like, one could say.
But unfortunately, you can link that to the aftermath of communism where the uniform and the title were really important because that’s what made you somebody. And, of course, that gave you a certain privilege and…
Daniela: And people like having privileges of course.
Guido: Yeah, and they don’t have that anymore now. But they still want to feel special, better than others, one could say above others. So yeah, already at the border control, the authorities treat you as if they were doing you a favor to let you in the country whereas, they don’t really understand that you coming into the country are also going to bring in money, and that is actually going to pay their salaries.
Daniela: And also people coming into the country, it does bring more light on the culture itself, it brings more tourists, more awareness about Romania in general, I would say.
Guido: Definitely. When you visit somebody else’s country, the host, in my opinion, they should feel honored because you choose to visit their country and like…holy shit, you’re coming to visit my country. I believe that’s something special. It’s like, you’re really taking the time to come here, there’s a lot that you can experience. There’s a lot that you can enjoy, there’s a lot that you can get to know.
Daniela: And that is the kind of realization that you had when you visited the Eastern side of the country, especially, this year, right?
Guido: Yeah, that is definitely true. When we traveled to the East, the experience was the closest I can think of to Argentina in Europe.
Daniela: In what sense?
Guido: Well, in the sense of the personal vibe that you get from the people, the fact that people are also more prone to human contact and they do treat you with a certain hospitality that you don’t find elsewhere. I mean, yes, Italians are very warm people, Spanish as well, the French as well, the Portuguese as well. But when you meet somebody for the first time, you still shake hands. In this case, they just hug you and yeah…
Daniela: They put their favorite beverages on the table for you, whatever that they have in their pantry, whatever food they have…
Guido: Yeah, they are more OK with human contact as well. And they take you in the house as if you were one of them. And that’s quite common to Latin America too, or at least to Argentina, I would say.
Daniela: This is something that I’ve noticed as a difference between Europeans in general, and Latin Americans: the human contact element does make a difference in the interactions of people. It does say something about how close they want to get to other people and how readily open they are for welcoming the other into their own space.
Guido: Indeed, when we traveled to Argentina. I really had forgotten about the fact that when you meet somebody, you don’t introduce yourself shaking hands. You just kiss on the cheek and it’s clearly a lot more intimate. And when you work on the streets, you have no personal space. So when you’re waiting at the traffic light.
Daniela: Yeah, that was an awkward experience for me to be very honest. [laughter]
Guido: Well, for me, that’s something that I don’t really pay attention to. It’s something that so in my being, that I didn’t pay attention to it. I did enjoy your discomfort.
Daniela: Basically, when you are waiting at the traffic light and then I just noticed that people were literally touching my skin with their skin. I was like…excuse me, but this is my little square on the planet.
Guido: Yes, and then you saw me and you’re like: oh no, you’re one of them. [laughter]
Daniela: Yeah, we have talked about that since the beginning of the relationship, I think.
Guido: Yeah, that is very true. And that is also why some people might not necessarily feel comfortable when I stand too close to them. But, back to the question, or more, back to the topic. I’ve noticed that Moldavians, or at least, the Moldavian part of Romania, because we haven’t been to the Republic, they really have this passion for life and for enjoying life as well. And they really have this motto of, I would say: whatever you do, just make sure that you’re enjoying life. Just don’t waste your time on stupid things because life is too short for that. You can definitely see it in the way that they live day by day and that they don’t really make long-term plans. And, if you just happen to be around, you can just drop by their houses and they’re just going to welcome you with anything, from homemade alcohol, from wines or țuică to food. They’re going to cook for you, as well. They’re gonna be like, OK, just come here and sit at the table. I’m going to cook something, just grill some stuff, drink something.
Daniela: And then, they’ll actually going to apologize if they feel that they don’t have enough to share with you as a guest. That I find pretty amazing.
Guido: This is definitely what happened also when we met some family, friends of yours.
Daniela: Family friends of my family.
Guido: Friends of your family. Yes, that are living in Moldova, in the Vaslui county. They basically didn’t know who I was when I got introduced to them. They were like: “oh, is this guy? Is this Daniela’s guy? OK, then hello, welcome!” They hugged me, they kissed me and then, “Yeah, just sit at the table, have some wine”.
Daniela: They started the interrogation about you, just to get to know if you are a criminal or not.
Guido: Yeah, but you’re immediately one of them. You’re part of the family and that’s the thing. They don’t know you at all. They have no obligation towards you. And they just welcome you into their homes with such a humble attitude and they’re also very grateful that you are there. They really appreciate the fact that you’re sharing your time with them.
Daniela: At the same time, an important difference that I’ve noticed between Romanians and Argentineans is that, even though both people have a certain passion for life and it gets manifested in very interesting ways during parties and celebrations, Romanians still can be quite fatalistic and have a certain heightened sense of sacrifice for their children, for getting a better future. And in that, they interestingly end up not enjoying life as much as they could. And I feel like that is a big difference between Romanians and Argentinians, who in the latter case, I feel like, even though they have a certain sacrificial spirit, it might not be to the extent or to the detriment of their enjoyment of life.
Guido: In the case of the sacrificial spirit, I think it’s quite common to both of them at the same intensity. If I think of my family, for example, they were doing everything for the children and it was this kind of attitude. And I have also seen this in different Italian families. So I might actually think that it’s common to Latin descending people.
Daniela: Could be the case.
Guido: But indeed, there’s a difference in terms of behavior because I get the feeling the Argentinians take their time a bit more, as if they were more patient. And they take things with a more relaxed attitude. But then again, that’s a cultural difference that I believe comes from the tens of years of oppression in Romania, both in West and in the East, to be honest.
Daniela: Of the country?
Guido: Yeah, and I mean, this impatience, this rush to live, you develop because you didn’t have the opportunity to do so before. Especially now, that it’s only 30 years since the fall of communism, it’s still going to take a long time to get over it.
Daniela: That’s an interesting point of view because, you see, a lot of Romanians feel pretty tired of mentioning communism in this context.
A lot of them feel like it’s time to move on or that we have spent enough time blaming communism for our current ordeals. It’s interesting that you bring out a different perspective, that, you know, 30 years may not be enough to get rid of all of the negative consequences and aftermath of this system, but it’s also not only a political system that has been put in place. It’s also thought system, a way of life that people had to endure for quite some years. So, what forms your argument to say that 30 years are not enough?
Guido: Well, you need to keep in mind that, first of all, communism affected at least 3 generations of people in Romania. It arrived in the 40s, right? So, just think of it this way. The communist regime got formed in the 40s and that means that the generations of 40s, 60s, 80s got heavily affected by it. And since the regime fell only in ’89, it left a very big scar, also on the generation of the 90s. So you have 3 to 4 generations that were affected by it. How do you expect to reverse the effects of this regime in only 30 years? It’s not enough, you cannot fix the damage that has been done in 50 years in only 30 years. And the damage is a lot because it’s 4 generations. It’s 4 generations. To this day, some of them are still alive, they’re still used to those systems. They’re still used to the way that things used to work during the communist regime so, of course, they don’t have any incentive to change.
Daniela: Of course. I mean, this reminds me of some of the discussions that I had with my own grandparents from both my mom and my dad’s side. It’s very interesting to see the difference in opinion because for example, on my mother’s side, my grandparents were working farmers.
They did not enjoy the communist regime at all. While on my father’s side, my grandparents were agricultural engineers as far as I understand and they were both party members. Well, everybody was a party member back then, whether you wanted to or not, but they did see the benefit in having a socialist Republic from the perspective of the way that it was organized, the fact that Romania did have a certain production, even though of course, we can get into the tidbits of why Romania was so productive
or even if Romania was so productive, how all those products were used for export, and domestic…
Daniela: Yes. It’s interesting to see the difference in opinion and obviously, when you come into 2019 and you hear so many stories about the current economic situation of Romania and also politically, because I think that it’s quite the black hole of pride. Let’s put it like that. You don’t really have much to be proud about in terms of politics.
Guido: Right now, definitely not. But let’s take a step back because I can definitely understand both positions of your grandparents, both in your mom’s side and on your dad’s side. Because that’s exactly the two faces of communism, one could say. One is the proletary, the people who are actually working the land and everything, and are producing what will feed people. You’re producing stuff and you cannot keep anything. You’re working your ass off and then the Communist Party takes everything, and they just leave you the bare minimum that you can use to survive. You cannot keep anything for yourself. Otherwise, they’re going to put you in jail.
Daniela: One thing that I found interesting, by the way, is that, well, on my mom’s side, my grandparents are from Transylvania. In Transylvania, people produce pălincă or țuică, so basically an alcohol which is based on prunes or pears, different kind of fruits. And it was illegal, it was illegal to have your own țuică production. I mean, I know this might sound bizarre, but for somebody who did not live during those times, I’m fresh out of the 90s as generation, it’s fascinating that I took things for granted to a certain extent. Up until the point when I actually found out that, ”Hey, your grandfather was producing this kind of beverage, putting himself and the family in danger”, because there was illegal. Very fascinating, but yeah, he’s still did it. He was still sneaky about it.
Guido: Clearly, like him, many others. And that is because you cannot constrain people to the extent that they will give up their entire will. And this can also be seen in the Pitești experiment.
Daniela: Hmmm, we’re going to Pitești.
Guido: Before we get into that, let me first…
Daniela: Finish the point.
Guido: Finish the point, yeah. Because then on the other side, on your dadțs grandparents’ side.
Daniela: His parents.
Guido: Oh yes, on your dad’s parents’ side. They had a different experience with the Communist Party because they were on a different rank, you know. The fact that they were engineers, they were basically levels above the farmers. That is definitely what happens when you get higher in the hierarchy of communism or in any hierarchy, of course. Because you do have the same kind of behavior in today’s society in a way. Maybe when you look at a corporation, at the base of it. You have the operational workers and then on top you have those who do more, one could say, theoretical work. And, of course, the higher you are in the ranking or in the hierarchy, the better the benefits are. So, I do understand also why a lot of people are saying that everything was so great during the communist period. After communism fell and it was…like all the public work, all the statues or building or anything, there was no more maintenance on anything. Nobody did anything anymore there.
And clearly because the whole…because of the free market, in that sense, there was a lot of import-export now because of international relations between Romania and other countries. Then what happened is that a lot of companies had to close because it was cheaper or easier to import certain products from other countries.
Daniela: But also their production was not feasible anymore.
Guido: No, their production was not feasible anymore. And that’s also because well, with the free market, clearly, the price for Romanian products for export got higher for the companies that were buying and it became unsustainable for them. So the Romanian companies are providing materials for foreign companies, they lost a lot clients. And that is basically sustainable only under a communist regime because there was nothing for the people who were working in companies. Like you wouldn’t really get a salary, you would just get your daily rations of food.
Daniela: You got a bit of money, but it definitely doesn’t compare to the buyer-power that you have with today’s salary.
Guido: Absolutely not. Yeah, that really impacts the way that your economy works. The moment that you’re sacrificing your people just to like sell stuff to other countries… How is that fair?
Daniela: And how is that sustainable in the long run? I mean that’s exactly what has happened in the 80s and that is precisely why people started complaining more vocally. That is why we had the revolution in Brasov in 1987 and then ultimately, in Timișoara and the rest of the country in 1989.
Because people didn’t want to live like that. And of course, then you also have the idea of how they live from an ideological perspective, if one can say that, as in they wanted to be free. They wanted to stop living and such, such an oppressive society, where basically everything is cheery and happy and for the for the Socialist Republic, but actually…
There’s a lot…there’s a lot that is not said, there’s a lot that is censored. You cannot be yourself, basically…and you don’t really have…
Guido: And that brings us to the experiment of Pitești. Because, unfortunately, that is something that happened and not enough people talk about it. It’s exactly like mister Solzhenitsyn says in the Gulag Archipelago, that it’s the worst thing that ever happened throughout the whole communist regime of the Soviet Union. That is basically because you put people who don’t have your own almost mentality, your own thought. You put them in a ”re-education program”, where you’re basically torturing them and having their friends torture them or try to have their friends torture them. You’re trying to break their…every single bit of their humanity.
Daniela: Of course, the idea of the experiment, if one can call it an ”experiment”, was to create the man of the future. That was the point.
Guido: Yes, the man of the future that was obedient and was completely wiped off any humanity and any freedom and any freedom of thought. The level to which it got was so extreme that you wouldn’t have control over your own life, either. So basically you could barely sleep and you could not even commit suicide because there would be somebody that would be vigilating you 24/7. When they tortured you to the point that you would just
barely be at, like, the end of life, then they would just put you back together and then they would start all over again.
Daniela: There were a couple of cases where people tried to commit suicide. Even just like with a…I remember there was 1 case that was in the Pitești prison, but I do not remember the inmate’s named, sadly. But he tried to commit suicide, eating a needle and what actually happened is that the needle just came out rusted on the other side, let’s put it like that. He couldn’t…he couldn’t even. He didn’t even have the freedom to choose whether he lives or not, but….
Guido: Yes, and that is exactly the point. You have 0 rights and 0 humanity left. Yeah, that is exactly what was happening during the communist regime, unfortunately. You didn’t have any freedom. The moment that you’re sacrificing your people for the sake of a supposedly greater purpose to the point that you had famine because you wanted to pay an external debt. Which yes, of course, great, for economic purposes. But who was going to pay for it? It’s not you. It’s going to be the people who are at the bottom. Guess where most people are: at the bottom. They are not going to take it. So, that is basically what sparks a change.
Daniela: How did you find out so, so much about the Pitești experiment?
Guido: Well, uh…
Daniela: And why, why was it important for you? In terms of getting to know Romania better.
Guido: Well for me, it was important for a few reasons, but let’s start first on how I found out about it. I found out about it while we were going through all the historical materials of Romania. The idea that such an experiment had happened, that nobody talks about it. In schools, for example, like, I studied history, yes, of course. But it feels like the core of all high school history programs is just World War 2. What comes afterward is just left to itself. Nobody talks about more contemporary history. The thing is, understanding history allows you to understand the present.
Daniela: This being in Italy?
Guido: Oh, in Italy, yeah. But also, on a more general perspective, everybody seems to focus only on World War 2 because of the Holocaust.
Yet nobody talks about the atrocities of communism. And if they do, it’s very superficially. So, yes, of course, this is a topic that sparks interest because it’s like, hi, I don’t know anything about this. And this is completely fucked up. Why is nobody talking about this? Why is nobody doing…bringing more attention to this problem?
Daniela: Why would it be important to bring more attention to the problem? Well, to the history of the Pitești experiment.
Guido: Because, well, that would actually help people understand what was actually happening during the communist regime. It would help them understand their history better and themselves and how they got to where they are right now as a people. What kind of enforcement was going on for the sake of limiting freedom of speech. What kind of behaviors were encouraged, if one could even say it like that.
Daniela: Just as a side note to our listeners – the Pitești experiment was trying to wipe out the thought elite of Romania, so that socialists could instead impose their own people and their own way of thinking about anything from arts to economics to politics to how you will live your day life. And you should definitely read up more about it because we will not get much more in depth into what has happened there in this podcast. But indeed, it did shape the later years of Romanian development.
Guido: Yeah, absolutely. And you can still see the effect of that today.
Guido: There is a certain cultural obedience in Romania. People very much struggle to contest authority and you can also see the way that, well, for example, during our trip to the eastern side of Romania, when we got involved into a small car accident. We needed to call the police or somebody like the police, to see if everybody was OK and everything. And I don’t know how many people called the police.
Daniela: At least 2.
Guido: At least 2, which one was you. Another one was one of the guy from the other cars and I think that also the driver of the 3rd car called the police and the ambulance, because the ambulance arrived. They started checking on the kid that they had in the car. But the police. What did they tell you?
Daniela: Oh [laughter], the police just told me to grab the car and go to their police section.
Guido: Yes, but then you had two cars that could not be driven. They could, one could say, barely be moved away because they were really into each other, like, quite mashed. One of them was leaking coolant.
Daniela: And that was the answer that all the other people got as well.
Daniela: “We will not come, just get the cars to the police section and then we’re going to fix it here.”
Daniela: And you decided to pick up the phone.
Guido: Yes, I decided to pick up the phone. And to the lady from the 112, I told her: look. I want to fucking police right now. Here. Because there has been a car accident. I want the fucking police to get their ass here because we cannot move the cars. And then, after 5 minutes of the same discussion, the lady was like, “OK, I’m going to talk to the police and they’re saying that you should go there” and I’m like “No, we’re not going to move the cars until they get their asses here”. So she was like she…she was trying to use the excuse that the police couldn’t speak English, so she was asking to speak with the lady, aka you, and I was like “Look, the police want to speak with the lady? OK. Tell them to get their ass over here”. With this kind of language. But imposing yourself that way was what was necessary for the police to come. And the way that the police was behaving also after they came. That they just, like, took all the documents of all the people and they just went away. You needed to guess where they were going.
Daniela: They didn’t say why they’re taking the documents, where are they taking the documents, where are we supposed to go? Luckily, we asked some locals about where the police section would be and then…
Guido: And luckily, it was not that far down the road. But once we get there, you get into this very bad looking office, in which they do treat you as if you were doing them, well, as if they were doing you a favor with their presence and with their service. So, to be honest, that situation really explains or, at least, it really shows that people don’t necessarily question the authority.
Daniela: That definitely was the case because observing the interactions that you were having with the cops versus the interactions that the other accident participants, if you can call them like that, were getting from the cops.
Daniela: With you, OK, they tried to be offensive. Or they tried to one-up you every time like either saying some kind of bad jokes about your Italian nationality or trying to impose themselves as an authority figure, but then you didn’t let that slide.
Guido: No, that didn’t work for me. They closed themselves in their office. They left us with these papers.
Daniela: Which they don’t even have at the beginning, we needed to…
Guido: Yes, they left us with these papers and they were expecting us to just, like, fill them up without necessarily knowing what to fill up in his papers.
Daniela: As if we get into accidents every day, guys.
Guido: Yes and as if we know how to do their jobs. Besides the fact that well, they didn’t have any pens or anything to write with. So I just knocked on the door, got in without even waiting for them to reply, and ask them if they had a pen, in Romanian, and the cop was like, “you’ll need to return it”.
Daniela: “Here’s the pen, but you will need to return it”.
Guido: And my instinctive response was like, “Don’t worry. We don’t steal”. So that made the guy feel a bit self-conscious, I guess, because then his first response was like, “Oh no, we also we don’t steal either:
Daniela: Which I found very ironic, because…You’re the cops. [laughter]
Guido: Yes, of course.
Daniela: Interesting answer. That’s all I’m saying.
Guido: After that, there were a lot more of these interactions, where you had to go back into this office with the paper. And it was always this situation of who is in charge, in a way, ’cause you just throw the paper at them because you know that you need to treat them with this, one could say, arrogance or with this…
Guido: Superiority, as in like, “here, do your job man”. Which is what was necessary for them to actually do their job.
Daniela: Yeah, but that was, for example, very different compared to how they treated the other people in the accident, who were Romanian. And they were just calling them names, telling one of the guys who was involved in the accident, and the accident wasn’t his fault. They were just making jokes about him, treating him very poorly, calling him names, I’m like…this is…and sadly, the guy was very terrified. I do understand his position but this kind of…I don’t know if it’s obedience. You do see it in the Romanian society that people are very afraid of questioning authority.
Daniela: They do know that there are consequences, when that happens. There are so many cases in which, for example, people try to…I don’t know…if people get into an accident and then somebody from the accident is what people call an “important person” – whatever that means, like you are the boss of somebody or are this public figure or this politician. Then, if people say “Do you know who I am?”, then the other conversation participants immediately shrug and become very tiny, to be very honest. But I don’t think much will change, in terms of our national pride coming to a more sensible way of living as a Romanian in a Romanian society.
Guido: Well, it will change, but it will take time. It will take time because it needs to start first of all from education. It needs to start from the educational system in the 1st place, where there is a lot of this bribery, that I simply wasn’t aware of, that you told me about, that was like, “What the hell? Why would you bring flowers or presents to the professor? What, what are we talking about?” It is like, you’re a professor, you’re already getting your salary. Why should I pay you to do your job? Why should I give you extra money to do your job? If you want more money, then complain to the state, don’t complain to me. I’m already paying my taxes. I’m already paying to be in the school as well. It’s not like this is free.
Daniela: Well, the Romanian education system is supposedly free, but that is a big discussion.
Guido: Yes, but is it actually free?
Daniela: Yeah, you need to pay a certain budget for the maintenance of the classroom, although, by law, that is something that the Romanian state is supposed to take care of. That’s why I’m saying it’s a big discussion point.
Guido: Yes, and that is actually where the change needs to start. Already today, you can see that there are some young people opposing this, which is very understandable. I mean, they’re getting very tired of the…of the way things work in this case. They don’t belong to the generations that were necessarily affected by communism. They don’t want to live in the same conditions. They want something to change and that is where the change starts. And that is why it takes long.
Daniela: On that note, since it’s the 1st of December and did talk more about the darker side of Romanian history or Romanian…I would say Romanian culture. What do you think people should be proud of on this hundreds and oneth… [laughter]
Daniela: 101st, yeah. [laughter]
Guido: On this 101st year of the Romanian Union, people should definitely be proud of…of themselves, first of all, because of what they endured in the last 100 years. Being able to endure so much and to retain their national identity – that is something that is very admirable. No matter how hard they tried with the Socialist Republic or with all the experiments of this world to wipe their identity, they didn’t succeed. It really makes it clear that the culture and the roots of Romanian people are very strong and they’re very close to them. And I also find very fascinating how they admire their Latin influence.
Daniela: In what way? How does it manifest?
Guido: Well, they love their Latin influence and you can see it in the language first of all, ’cause it’s the closest you can get to Latin and I find that amazing. Also, how they became the Romanian people. As in, like Roman, of Roman descent. There is the entire citadel of Alba Iulia that is where the Romans had settled and they are very proud of it. They’re pretty proud of their Roman descent.
Daniela: Actually, in Alba Iulia, it’s where the official ceremony for the unification of the states happened.
Guido: That is also true. And I believe that also has to do with the fact that the Romans were the first ones who brought everything together. The whole Dacian Republic or region, one could say.
Daniela: Yeah, I don’t think they had republics.
Guido: No, they…
Daniela: Not the Dacians.
Guido: No, the Dacians not, but republics are quite old. Another thing that they should very much be proud of is the accomplishments of Romanian inventors. Think of Traian Vuia being the first guy to be able to fly, well, what at the time was a plane for a few meters without any auxiliary devices, not like a catapult…
Daniela: Or a trampoline.
Guido: Yeah, and people like Henri Coandă with the pioneering that he did on the jet engines for planes. It’s…man, there are so many people in Romanian history that we should be grateful for because they are the ones who pioneered many of the inventions that we have today. So, those are definitely things that Romanians should be proud of.
Daniela: And what wishes do you have for the Romanian people and also, maybe even for the international community that settled in Romania, and looks that Romania as part of their future? What wishes do you have on this special day?
Guido: My wish for the Romanian people, in the first place, is to keep their national pride strong, keep their national identity strong and to actually be proud of being Romanian because there’s plenty of things for which they should be proud, just like the ones I mentioned. Because, of course, there are good and bad things, but it is who you are. You should accept it. It’s important to be proud of it because no matter what other people say, it is your land. You can always do your best to make it a better place. And for the internationals, what I can wish for them is to dive deep into what the Romanian culture has to offer because, whether you think about it historically or philosophically or like culturally speaking or even technologically speaking, it’s a country that has a lot to offer. I could talk about it for hours. So, I believe that also some of these things are strictly related because technology is also related to food, the way they were serving the food or, like, stocking their food, it’s part of technology. And then, you actually see how that links to that nature that surrounds them or like the weather conditions that they live in. So people, deep into this culture because it’s very interesting. It’s super fascinating. I mean, really, I can go on and on, it makes me very excited, honestly.
Daniela: So, we will definitely see you back in Romania. [laughter]
Guido: Hopefully, for Christmas. Let’s see if we can make that happen.
Daniela: Let’s see. Let’s see.
Guido: Honestly, I find it very interesting that my great grandfather was Romanian.
Daniela: That’s also a very, very interesting link, indeed.
Guido: Yeah, I never got to meet him. Unfortunately, he died some 15 years before I was born. But apparently, he was from what is now Timișoara. At the time, it was still Temesvár when he was born. because it was under the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. But if you look at the pictures, he definitely looks Romanian.
Daniela: yeah, he went suspiciously, from being a Mihai into becoming a Miguel. [laughter]
Guido: Yeah, I don’t know if he was Mihai. But for sure, in Argentina, he became Miguel, which is kind of a weird name for somebody that can be of Romanian/Austro-Hungarian descent. And that is actually something that I would like to research further and hopefully, I will be able to find out more information. So, definitely a reason to go back to Romania is to explore the archives of the Timișoara.
Daniela: And to dive deep into the culture yourself.
Daniela: Cool. Well, then, thanks babe, for being on the first episode of the podcast.
Guido: It’s a pleasure. I hope I managed to get people as excited as I was with the whole historical context and all the things that the country has gone through, or, at least, a little part of the things that actually the country went through.
Daniela: And that define the status quo and make you understand things better, putting them into perspective.
Guido: Of course. My best suggestion for Romanians is not to feel guilty for who they are or for their history. They should just accept it.
And move on with it. Oh, Oh, one of the best things that I discovered about Romanian culture: Paraziții.
Daniela: Ohhh… [excited]
Guido: That and your ex-classmate, Shelulita.
Daniela: Alin Armășelu?
Guido: Man, that guy…I respect that guy. He’s got some balls to go on national TV and take the piss on all the people there, love it.
Daniela: So these are personal recommendations for all the internationals that are listening out there. Well, and some Romanians, maybe.
Daniela: In case you don’t know who Paraziții are, I’m just saying.
Guido: Man, but you know, if mister Shelu is ever going to listen to this, which I hope he will, he should know that there’s an international fandom growing.
Daniela: Perfect. On that note….
Guido: On that note…
Daniela: Thank you, babe.
Guido: My pleasure being here with you.
Daniela: And happy birthday to Romania. La mulți, mulți ani tuturor românilor din toate colțurile lumii!
(which translates into “Have a very very happy birthday, all the Romanians from any corner of this world!)
Also, to all the internationals: please enjoy your sarmale and mici today! It truly is a special day. Thank you for being with us and see in the next one.
Daniela And that’s a wrap for the first episode of the wo/anderers podcast. Thank you so much for tuning in! Make sure you subscribe to our show to get our latest episodes. This is a baby project, so, especially now at the beginning, it needs a lot of love.
You can find us on Spotify, iTunes, YouTube and other platforms which you can check on our website, www.woanders.com. That is www.w-o-a-n-d-e-r-e-r-s .com. What a mouthful. But that’s where you’re going to find us. And that’s also where you can find today’s show notes in both English and Romanian.
For comments, feedback or thoughts, head over to our website and leave us a note there on the contact page. Special thanks to Guido Marthi, our super technician, to Liuda Sharafutdinova for the beautiful design, and to Vlad Cuiujuclu for this amazing soundtrack. Thank you, mulțumesc, bye-bye and la revedere!